Aiguille Squamish Hiking Terms
Aiguille: a tall, narrow, characteristically distinct spire of rock. From the French word for "needle". Used extensively as part of the names for many peaks in the French Alps. Around Whistler in the alpine you will find several distinct aiguilles. Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park could be called an aiguille, however its long and prominent history has given it another descriptive term of "tusk". You will find aiguilles on many hikes in British Columbia. The image above is from from the Tantalus Range in Squamish, viewed from Levette Lake. The image below is an aiguille above Wedgemount Lake.
Here is another image of the above Tantalus Range aiguille with a plane flying over. The Tantalus Range is a popular area for fly-in hiking or airplane touring. Black Tusk Helicopter does an excellent tour of the Tantalus Range.
Other hiking trails in Whistler you will encounter aiguilles are on Blackcomb Mountain, the Sproatt Alpine Trail, Black Tusk and around Cirque Lake. Blackcomb Mountain has come alive with beautiful hiking trails in recent years. With the 2008 addition of the Peak to Peak Gondola which connects Blackcomb to Whistler, the demand for mountain trails is higher than ever. A dozen years ago, you would just have had some rough hiking trails to follow, and not many hikers to follow them. Now you have mapboards, trail signs, viewpoint seating areas and six popular, named trails to hike.
The trails are mostly easy and relaxing, however the Decker Loop Trail at the far end of Blackcomb is very challenging and spectacularly scenic. For the most part, you will find yourself winding through a nice alpine forest scattered with enormous fields of erratics leading to one great viewpoint after another.
You can hike for as little as 15 minutes or more than 3 hours, depending on the trail or trails you choose to follow. Blackcomb Lake and Blackcomb Peak that looms far above it are the most popular destinations for hikers and getting there and back can be done in a couple hours. The hiking trails on Blackcomb Mountain begin at the Rendezvous Lodge and are immediately beautiful. Dozens of sightseers will be snapping photos right from the start of the trail. Mapboards along the trails give you an indication of the mountains and lakes you can see in the valley below and beyond. The Blackcomb hiking trails run in a linear route and the different trails are basically sections of one large trail. In short, you hike in one direction, but have the option of making the trail longer or shorter as you go.
Glossary of Hiking Terms Squamish Hiking Terms
Ablation Zone: the annual loss of snow and ice from a glacier as a result of melting, evaporation, iceberg calving, and sublimation which exceeds the accumulation of snow and ice. Located below the firn line. Firn originated from Swiss German and means "last year's snow". It has been compacted and recrystallized making it harder and more compact than snow, though less compact than glacial ice. An excellent place to see an ablation zone is Wedgemount Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler. The Wedgemount Glacier has been receding for decades. In the 1970's the glacier terminated with a steep and vertical wall of ice at the shores of Wedgemount Lake. Today the glacier terminates a couple hundred metres above Wedgemount Lake.
Accumulation Zone: the area where snow accumulations exceeds melt, located above the firn line. Snowfall accumulates faster than melting, evaporation and sublimation removes it. Glaciers can be shown simply as having two zones. The accumulation zone and the ablation zone. Separated by the glacier equilibrium line, these two zones comprise the areas of net annual gain and net annual loss of snow/ice. The accumulation zone stretches from the higher elevations and pushes down, eventually reaching the ablation zone near the terminus of the glacier where the net loss of snow/ice exceeds the gain. The Wedgemount Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler is an ideal place to see an accumulation zone up close. From across Wedgemount Lake you can see the overall picture of both the accumulation zone and ablation zone of a glacier. The Wedgemount Glacier is also relatively easy and safe to examine closely and hike onto. The left side of the glacier is frequented in the summer and fall months by hikers on their way to Wedge Mountain and Mount Weart.
Bench: a flat section in steep terrain. Characteristically narrow, flat or gently sloping with steep or vertical slopes on either side. A bench can be formed by various geological processes. Natural erosion of a landscape often results in a bench being formed out of a hard strip of rock edged by softer, sedimentary rock. The softer rock erodes over time, leaving a narrow strip of rock resulting in a bench. Coastal benches form out of continuous wave erosion of a coastline. Cutting away at a coastline can result in vertical cliffs dozens or hundreds of metres high with a distinct bench form. Often a bench takes the form of a long, flat top ridge. Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Park is an excellent example of a bench. The Musical Bumps trail on Whistler Mountain is another good example of bench formations. Each "bump" along the Musical Bumps trail is effectively a bench.
Bergschrund or abbreviated schrund: a crevasse that forms from the separation of moving glacier ice from the stagnant ice above. Characterized by a deep cut, horizontal, along a steep slope. Often extending extremely deep, over 100 metres down to bedrock. Extremely dangerous as they are filled in winter by avalanches and gradually open in the summer. The Wedge glacier at Wedgemount Lake is a great and relatively safe way to view bergschrund near Whistler. At the far end of Wedgemount Lake the beautiful glacier window can be seen with water flowing down into the lake. From the scree field below the glacier you can see the crumbling bergschrund separate and fall away from the glacier. Up on the glacier you fill find several crevasses. Many are just a few centimetres wide, though several metres deep. Hiking along the left side of the glacier is relatively safe, however the right size of the glacier is extremely dangerous as the bergschrund vary in width and can be measure only in metres instead of centimetres. Hikers venturing up the glacier are advised to keep far to the left or only at the safe, lower edges near the glacier window.
Bivouac or Bivy: a primitive campsite or simple, flat area where camping is possible. Often used to refer to a very primitive campsite comprised of natural materials found on site such as leaves and branches. Often used interchangeably with the word camp, however, bivouac implies a shorter, quicker and much more basic camp setup. For example, at the Taylor Meadows campground in Garibaldi Park, camping is the appropriately used term to describe sleeping there at night. If instead you plan to sleep on the summit of Black Tusk, bivouacking would be more accurately used. In the warm summer months around Whistler you will find people bivouacking under the stars with just a sleeping bag. The wonderful, wooden tent platforms at Wedgemount Lake are ideal for this.
Cairn: a pile of rocks used to indicate a route or a summit. The word cairn originates from the Scottish Gaelic word carn. A cairn can be either large and elaborate or as simple as a small pile of rocks. To be effective a cairn marking a trail has to just be noticeable and obviously man-made. In the alpine areas around Whistler, above the treeline, cairns are the main method of marking a route. In the spring and fall when snow covers alpine trails, cairns mark many routes. An inuksuk(aka inukshuk) is the name for a cairn used by peoples of the Arctic region of North America. Though an inuksuk can take many forms similar to a cairn, it is usually represented by large rocks formed into a human shape. The word inuksuk literally translates from two separate Inuit words, inuk "person" and suk "substitute". The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler used the inuksuk for the logo of the games. Today you will find several giant rock inuksuks in Vancouver and Whistler at various places. In Whistler there is an impressive inuksuk, several metres high a the peak of Whistler Mountain.